"AFFIRMATIVE ACTION, CULTURALLY-CENTERED EDUCATION AND OTHER CHALLENGES TO UNJUST AUTHORITY AND POWER"

by Lloyd C. Daniel

 

Part I: The Circumstance

The Supreme Court is, once again, poised to rule against the concept of affirmative action and in turn against the actual implementation of political, economic and cultural democracy within the United States. The Supreme Court, like popular opinion, has been wrong before. And we have been able to overcome its incorrectness and ignorance before. There is no governmental business more important than the struggle for democracy itself. But the struggle for a "people’s democracy", which is an advance beyond monopoly corporate democracy, is other than the acceptance of a system and the regular trudging to polling places to choose between the options offered up by that same system. A people’s democracy would place the interests of the people ahead of the interests of "machines, computers, profit motives and property rights." It would also allow for the direct participation of working people in the setting of priorities and the allocation of resources through town hall meetings, referenda, worker candidates, grassroots organizations, etc. We must take personal responsibility and we must build our own institutions. We must build our families, our businesses, our political organizations, our media, and most importantly our own value structures, for as people thinketh, so are they. And there is no contradiction between people of color, women and workers in general doing for ourselves, while we at the same time, without hesitation, fight for our fair share of the better parts of a society we have helped to build.

Exploitation of working people exists. Racism, sexism, classism and ageism, etc. are still alive and well in the United States. Recognizing this, the current attempts to reduce access to relevant education, economic development, mass media, elected office, etc., constitute a direct attack upon basic human rights. The majority of Americans have benefitted from affirmative action-like policies. Historically, "qualified" people of color, women of all nationalities, and poor people were passed over and discriminated against. Affirmative action has helped to reduce the impact of this fact. As affirmative action has decreased, discrimination has increased. As for education, many culturally-centered alternative educational models, whether they’ve been centered around a racial group, an ethnic group, social class or gender, have served not only to better build, what are often called, basic academic skills, but also significant degrees of social awareness and analytical skills which are no less important. Education is more than just the passage of the 3Rs. Real education includes the 4th and most important R. The 4th R being Reasoning based upon values, understanding and principle. Education is more than training. Training by itself tends to domesticate, but education liberates. Liberation education speaks to more than the development of basic academic skills. It speaks to the very life blood of a society. It speaks to the heart of democracy; the empowerment of people, particularly people who have been systematically locked out and colonized. The passage of basic academic skills is absolutely necessary, but in the new century we must develop learning models that are as in sync with the coming era, as most schools are now in sync with the society of 75 years ago. America’s economic system was once an assembly line-based industrial one. This is no longer the case. But most schooling still reflects perceptions and needs of the industrial model. This is a post-industrial era. We need a post-industrial educational model. Large factory-oriented, one-size-fits-all schools no longer suit our needs. Schools must now focus less on what to think and more on how to think, how to analyze. In a world that changes in an increasingly rapid fashion, the whats can change on a daily basis, but a lifelong learner blessed with the ability to think honestly, clearly and deeply will be in a position to keep up with "what’s goin on" and to see beyond the present. Other than the passage of so-called basic skills including critical thinking, futuristic education should also be highlighted by such features as: hands-on experiential learning, entrepreneurial development, social/spiritual consciousness and the creation of "a new teacher, for a new society."

Culturally-specific structures should not only be defended, but extended into all appropriate venues. In social justice terms, measures like affirmative action, which are designed to achieve greater degrees of fairness and opportunity, are to this era what the Voting and Civil Rights Acts were to the 1960s. And just as with the struggle for the Voting Rights Act, which most citizens in the South who then had the right to vote opposed, we must not be thrown off course by incorrect and confused segments of the public which must now give up undue privilege and share power and which will later largely admit they were wrong. Then they called it "states’ rights". But then and now it’s states’ wrongs. Whether it’s the likes of George Wallace and Alabama then or Pete Wilson and California now, what gets you the most votes doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with what is right, fair or even common sense. But 20 years later, even Wallace entered a Black church and testified that "once he was lost" and of course later found. The goal must be to be on the right side of history when it matters most, when "justice is on the scaffold and wrong on the throne".

To argue in this era that you are in the favor of social justice, but against processes such as affirmative action, culturally-centered education, and multi-culturalism, puts you in harmony with those who in the 60s argued that they were in favor of justice, but against the Civil Rights

and Voting Rights Acts. It puts you in harmony with hypocrites. Sweet reason will convince some, but it won’t be enough to turn the tide. As in other historic eras, it will be the active struggle of those who have the most to gain and the least to lose which will win the day, not public opinion or right-wing talk show conclusions.

This fight is part of the overall struggle for justice, against what Eisenhower correctly referred to as the "military industrial complex." Legally and theoretically the people of this country have democracy. What we most lack is a more relevant degree of actual democracy for working people. A tiny handful of super-rich transnational business and military types control the vast majority of this nation’s wealth. This class has created a version of democracy which is designed to perpetuate its domination of this society while it extends its global reach. This largely unelected elite remains the primary external impediment to real democracy. But it should be noted that while many state governments are attempting to outlaw affirmative action, virtually all major corporations, because they have to function in a global market which is predominately of color, are proceeding with affirmative action and affirmative action-like plans as though they live in the real world. For a multi-national corporation not to cultivate a skilled and diverse workforce is political and economic suicide. Ironically, as the ruling elite in the United States attempts to maintain its sole superpower status, as with the implementation of the Voting Rights Act, international affairs and world opinion might have more influence over this country’s direction related to inclusion than popular domestic misperception and/or mean spiritedness. During the Vietnam period, it became increasingly difficult to explain to the world community why the United States government had to go halfway around the world to impose its version of democracy on others when they didn’t even let all of its own people vote. Today, similar contradictions in America’s propaganda line, this time revolving around issues of cultural, judicial, and economic democracy, are becoming increasingly evident to people around the world.

Measures designed to ensure cultural, educational and economic opportunity have enabled millions of able women, people of color, and young people of both sexes, to enter the marketplace of ideas and dollars. These are people who have worked, paid taxes and in many cases fought in this nation's wars; people who have been sent to other countries, to receive their fair share of agent orange and other poisons. We need not now apologize for demanding our families’ fair share of our own tax dollars for education, job training, health care and business construction. We need not apologize. We will not apologize. Modern-day American white supremacists, whether they be knowingly racist or not, need to recognize that the United States doesn’t belong to any one group. And even if it did it would necessarily be a Native American group. We must exercise our right to determine our own destiny; the right of self-determination. Every individual and group in America has the right to access to the system and the responsibility to do for themselves. It is the blending of these two dynamics which opens the door to full and complete democracy. With God and the ancestors’ help, we will build ways to ensure a greater degree of real democracy for all Americans.

 

Part II: A Plan of Action

Since this nation was established, working people’s struggle for a better life has been constant. But every thirty or forty years there’s been acceleration of the fight; a popular upsurge to redefine and expand the boundaries of American democracy. Whether it was the 1960s and voting, civil, student and women’s rights and the anti-war movements or the 1930s and the labor movement or the turn of the century and the self-help and women’s suffrage movements or the 1860s and the Civil War or the 1820s and 30s and the great slave rebellions and the abolition movement, these periods have provided jump starts for the redefinition. Corrupt and timid, go-along-to-get-along, big business-oriented politicians cannot orchestrate a challenge or build an alternative to a system that is their lifeblood. They are generally not leaders, but managers, administrators, gate-keepers, mouthpieces and flunkies in the house against which working people struggle. Politics is too important to be left to politicians alone. The task falls upon the shoulders of grassroots and other alternative leadership. We must develop a strategy that enables us to defend ourselves, while we counterattack. What follows are five specific features of that counterattack; a plan of action.

  1. BOYCOTT THOSE WHO OPPOSE FAIRNESS.

In the spirit of Rosa Parks, stop doing business with vulnerable sectors of institutions that don't have active strategies to achieve equal opportunity.

EXAMPLE: Through a systematic strategy of grassroots and popular mobilization, publicly announce which hotels, advertisers, sponsors, vendors, cities, states and corporations we will not patronize, because of their lack of an effective affirmative action plan. Conversely, announce which institutions, etc. we will share our dollars with and why. Many of these institutions might not care about fairness, but they all care about money.

 

2.                  PRODUCE OUR OWN MEDIA, WHICH IS BOTH THOUGHT-PROVOKING AND ENTERTAINING.

We must go beyond mainstream corporate media, into the production of quality alternative and progressive electronic media. These media endeavors, rooted in popular culture, should include: television, radio, the Internet, dance, music, theater, film, etc. and should generally be income generating, therefore self-sustaining.

EXAMPLE: We must support programming on locally owned, independent, alternative and progressive newspapers, radio stations and tv stations. Where these entities don’t already exist, they should be established. Alternative radio and tv formats should be created. Sponsors should be found for a diverse array of alternative programming. These programs should then be placed on existing low power, public access, community and/or commercial stations. Where these types of programs already exist, they should be supported. "Don’t just watch tv, make tv." "Don’t just listen to radio, make radio."

 

3.                  MOBILIZE TO VOTE INDEPENDENTLY AND IN PRINCIPLED COALITION.

We can no longer afford to be loyal to boards, political clubs, parties and politicians who are not loyal to us. One test of these groups' loyalty to us, is the measure of our direct involvement in their decision-making processes. If we cannot participate in these processes, we should not give them our money, our votes, nor the time of day. For years most progressive voters have felt obligated to vote for the so-called "lesser of two evils" and as a result have voted slavishly for the Democrats. But, in many cases, Democrats no longer represent the lesser of two evils, but the "eviler of two lessers". The Democrats have, for years, pimped the votes of working people and therefore owe us more than the open implementation of an essentially conservative and Republican agenda, including: NAFTA, GATT, opposition to affirmative action, attacks on the poor through so-called welfare reform, the creation of a captive labor force through the construction and maintenance of prisons as a form of economic development, and the refusal to accept other nations’ right of self-determination.

EXAMPLE: As most of the nation’s leadership of both major parties continue to compete over who can best take advantage of people with middle and low incomes, the Democrats need to understand that, "if all we get is a basement apartment", then it really doesn't matter, to us, in whose house we live. We can't fall out of the basement. We have virtually nothing to lose. At this point, the masses of people have more to gain by punishing fair weather friends, for turning their backs on real democracy, than we have to lose, if more obvious enemies gain greater influence. Politicians must recognize, that if they don't respect the interests of their most loyal supporters, come election time, they will lose, period. Being thrown out of office will provide them with an opportunity to re-evaluate and re-negotiate their strategies. This reconsideration could become the basis for the formation of a principled coalition of this nation's real majority, people who have jobs and small businesses.

 

4.                  RUN CANDIDATES WHO INSPIRE PEOPLE TO REGISTER, VOTE AND TAKE RESPONSIBILITY, AS WELL AS LEADERSHIP.

Many people feel, "they can do bad" whether they vote or not. Sadly, they're often right. We must reevaluate who should run for office and in whose interest elected officials actually work. Elected officials should work for all our people, not just for a clique. The interests of those who claim to represent us must become more closely aligned with the interests of students, workers, small business owners, and other taxpayers and consumers.

EXAMPLE: If you want young people, women and grassroots people to register and vote, run candidates from, already attached to and/or popular among these groups. Once mobilized, these new voters can, with their ballots, hold accountable and/or remove from office racist, sexist, undemocratic and sellout politicians and bureaucrats. Most elections are close. These new "swing voters" can become working people's margin of victory.

 

5.                  INCREASE OUR SUPPORT OF AND INVOLVEMENT IN INDEPENDENT EDUCATIONAL, CULTURAL, ECONOMIC, POLITICAL AND SPIRITUAL EVENTS, INSTITUTIONS AND MOVEMENTS.

This process must be linked to the production of goods and services, valued by grassroots people. Most people function "on the basis of goods and services first, ideologies and theologies second". For ourselves and for one another, let us have more love, respect, tolerance, patience and prayer, while we fight for cooperation among people who are different, national liberation and true democracy.

EXAMPLES: Institutions, movements, and processes related to such items as the following:

Thirty years ago, most people in the South and parts of the Southwest, who were forced by mass movements and the Voting Rights Act to share political authority with all the rest of their fellow citizens, at first, felt put upon. But generally they, including some members of the Supreme Court, learned to get used to it and over time most learned to accept it. The same will be true of the sharing of cultural and economic authority regardless of race or gender in the 21st Century. Whether conservatives and other defenders of the status quo like it or not, we will challenge ourselves and unjust authority, while we build our own reality. The primary question is, "What will be our strategies for the challenge?". These approaches should allow us to protect our vital interests, while we continue a process of responsibility and conscious development. This is our tradition.

In the spirit of Crispus Attucks . . .

In the spirit of Daniel Shays . . .

In the spirit of David Walker . . .

In the spirit of Cinque . . .

In the spirit of Harriet Tubman . . .

In the spirit of Frederick Douglass . . .

In the spirit of Crazy Horse . . .

In the spirit of Zapata . . .

In the spirit of Joe Hill . . .

In the spirit of Mother Jones . . .

In the spirit of Marcus Garvey . . .

In the spirit of Fannie Lou Hamer . . .

In the spirit of Michael Shwerner . . .

In the spirit of Malcolm X . . .

In the spirit of Dr. King . . .

We will challenge unjust social authority and power and in the end we will win, for there will always be a higher power which is spiritual and on the side of what is right and true. And as a result, "no lie can live forever."


Lloyd C. Daniel is a former Professor with the University of Missouri - Kansas City and Penn Valley Community College.  He is also formerly a State Representative of Missouri's 42nd District and a convener of the New Democracy Movement.

He is the author of Liberation Education which is published by New Democracy Press.

For more information call (816) 292-2835. For comments e-mail .